Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar (English title: The Big City) is masterful. There’s so much technique on display here: it’s one of those movies that just exudes the director’s confidence.
Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) decides that she wants to work when money is tight. Her newfound employment divides her family and tests her marriage.
Mahanagar is full of canted angles, long takes, dollies in, reflections, and frames-within-frames. Ray isn’t afraid to push the style, and it’s a real testament to the movie that it feels so elegant despite so many different visual approaches, many of which are aesthetically outside “the norm”:
As the title suggests, Ray’s film is very much about the big city and that’s often on display in office scenes, through a glass window. Oddly, the city (Calcutta) itself isn’t really seen much until the end of the film. That’s intentional. The end of the film gives us several wide shots of the city – one of the few times we’re out there uninhibited. Actually, the film ends with husband and wife walking outside and Ray’s camera pulling to quite wide-
-before slowly pushing back in on a streetlamp, the same image with which the film began (a symbol? A flicker of hope? Or maybe just a nice way to start and end the film, visually):
The most we really see the city otherwise is in Arati’s boss’ office. It’s quite intentional and restrained on Ray’s part. The man always obstructs the view. The city is just within reach, but that great unknown is also so far away. It’s a nice visual way to suggest Arati’s simultaneous freedom and confinement:
Ray also does comedy well. When Arati gets her first paycheck she’s all smiles. She comes home in a great mood and Ray accordingly changes his coverage. There’s a simple shot where she jokes with her husband. Ray frames him in a medium close-up and eschews the elegant long takes and deep focus that make up a lot of the rest of the film, going with a shot that’s nearly slapstick as Arati pops in and out of frame:
The snappy pacing of the movement and the way her face boldly enters and exits is part of the comedy. It’s the right way to shoot this scene, rather than cutting to a reverse – perhaps the standard instinct.
This is also a very progressive film. Arati as the main breadwinner; an “Anglo woman” who works with Arati (a remnant of the British exit); an older generation who refuses to acknowledge the woman’s changing role. Ray’s tackling a lot here
The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival
I didn’t catch much at the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival but I was able to see two, one fun and interesting, the other not quite up to par. Here are links to my reviews on popOptiq: